Tag Archives: Israel

The whole megillah in one sentence

A quiz from when I taught Sunday school. I always thought Vashti got a raw deal in this story.

Did somebody say ‘megillah?’ It means ‘the whole ball of wax’ or ‘the whole nine yards.’ Where did that word come from? Purim is the holiday that celebrates when Esther saved the Persian Jews from being massacred. It’s a long story that’s read in its entirety every Purim—and the Hebrew word for scroll is megillah.

And, because I’m the Sweetheart of Blogdom, I’ll give the whole Book of Esther my patented Western-Lit-in-Only-One-Sentence ® treatment. The set-up: Israel had been under the thumb of the Assyrian Empire, then the Babylonian Empire who marched most of the Jews to parts East. Next, the Persians ran the show and the Jews who lived in the Persian empire kept their heads down to avoid trouble. We’re in Susa, the capital city. Ready? Hang onto your tri-corner hats ‘cause here we go:

Five months into a 6-month drinking party King Ahasuerus hollers for Queen Vashti to make an appearance but Vashti says no thanks bub so the wise men tell King Ahasuerus she has to go or else none of the wives will obey their drunk husbands so Queen Vashti gets the pink slip and Ahasuerus holds a beauty contest to choose a new wife meanwhile the Jew Mordecai tells his beautiful cousin Esther the Miss Persia pageant could be her golden ticket so Esther enters and wins now she’s the queen and lives in the palace Mordecai warns Esther be careful some bad guys want to kill the king so Esther tells the cops and they catch the bad guys later the bigshot Haman is walking around Susa everybody bows to him except Mordecai who only bows to G-d so Haman gets mad and tells King Ahasuerus he wants to kill all the Jews because they won’t bow to him Ahasuerus says okay here’s my ring with the royal seal do whatever you want Mordecai gets wind of this plan and begs Esther to get the king to stop it Esther goes to the king even though he didn’t ask to see her which was a serious crime in those days but she figures if I die I die Ahasuerus doesn’t kill her so she invites Ahasuerus and Haman to dinner Haman builds a really tall gallows to hang Mordecai later that night the king reads the newspaper story about how Mordecai stopped the bad guys who tried to kill him he orders Haman to honor Mordecai with a big parade so Haman doesn’t get to hang him which really grinds Haman’s gears that evening at Esther’s dinner King Ahasuerus asks her what would you like darling anything at all even unto half my kingdom Esther says Haman wants to kill all the Jews I’m a Jew so…Ahasuerus has Haman hanged on the same gallows Haman had built for Mordecai the king gives his ring with the royal seal to Mordecai he sends out executive orders allowing the Jews to defend themselves they destroy their enemies Mordecai takes over the bigshot job Haman had.

https://www.thespruceeats.com/jewish-hamantaschen-cookies-recipe-1136141
https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/purim
https://www.israel21c.org/making-some-noise-on-purim/

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The alefbet

There’s a silver lining to all this misery. Up until the Babylonian Captivity, the books of the Hebrew Bible had been memorized and recited orally. But when the Jews found themselves far from home and their Temple, in danger of losing everything that made Jews who they are, afraid that future generations would forget G-d and His covenant with His chosen people—they started writing the Bible. They wrote down everything from Adam and Eve up to just before the prophets, then they wrote down the prophets, too.

The Bible was written and copied in beautiful Hebrew letterforms that were adopted and adapted from the Phoenician alphabet. Their alefbet made the Bible far easier to read than other holy writing. Jews learned to read (they posted words on the doorways of their houses!). People who weren’t Jews learned how to read and the Word of G-d spread far beyond Israel. The idea that each of us has a purpose and is loved by G-d is central to the Bible and central to Western culture.

And since you’re here, reading this, now seems a good time to remind you: you have a purpose and you’re loved by G-d. Hold that news in your heart because it’s absolutely true.

https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/news/when-was-the-hebrew-bible-written/
https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/article/origins-written-bible/
https://jewishmuseum.org.uk/schools/asset/hebrew-alphabet/

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Remembrance

Today is Holocaust Memorial Day. I’m going to pause retelling the story of Babylonian exile until tomorrow. 

“The international day remembers the six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust, alongside the millions of other people killed under Nazi persecution.

The Holocaust, also known as the Shoah – which means “destruction” in Hebrew – took place between 1941 and 1945.”

https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/13856203/when-is-holocaust-memorial-day-2021/

Things go sideways for Israel

The divided kingdom

If you had me for a Sunday school teacher you’ve heard me drone on about the Babylonian Captivity. You can find my universally-acclaimed Major Prophets of the Old Testament cheat sheets here and here and here and here.

Tiny little Israel was different from all the other countries. Instead of worshiping a bunch of gods, Hebrews worshiped one G-d: the G-d of Abraham. So long as they were true to G-d, Israel enjoyed the independence of being a sovereign state. Unfortunately, the Hebrews were flawed people—just like the rest of us—and began turning from G-d. There was civil war and the one kingdom split into two: Judah and Israel. Oh, the prophets warned them what would happen, but nobody listened.*

* I typed G-d that way as a courtesy for Jewish readers. My audience is tiny enough—I can’t afford to turn anyone away.

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Guest blogger: Ilene Winn-Lederer

It would be madness to cover the Hebrew alphabet without asking my pal (and Western Civ User’s Guide Irregular) Ilene Winn-Lederer to contribute some thoughts and a few examples of her fantastic calligraphy using Hebrew letterforms. Click on the links to view more of her work. Thanks, Ilene!



John: Since you will likely cover the technical origins of Hebrew from its Paleo-Aramaic roots to modern usage, here are my personal thoughts on my use of the language in my work.

First, I find the old and new forms of the alefbet fascinating for the following reasons:

I did not grow up in a religious home nor experience a formal Hebrew school education. Coming at the Hebrew culture/language from a mostly outsiders’ perspective, I did not speak it at all but learned to read it gradually through native speakers and informal classes through the years. Ironically, because my grandparents generation came to the US from Eastern Europe, Yiddish was my first language as a child. Anyway, I viewed Hebrew letters as simply beautiful art forms with great design potential. My mystical understanding of the alefbet also came from personal informal studies/classes.

Rimmonim means pomegranate

On that note, here are thoughts from my ‘Alchymy of Alphabets’ collection at my web gallery:
While there have been myriad renditions of the Hebrew alphabet throughout history on stone, carved in wood, crafted in metal, drawn in manuscripts, books, art and calligraphy, I’ve rarely seen any that explore these beautiful letterforms outside the box of their traditional appearance. In 2008, for my portfolio with PaperRoad Art Licensing LLC, I designed a group of illustrated English alphabets whose theme defined the shape of each letter. This year, I’ve decided to work that concept into the Hebrew alphabet. With identification in Hebrew and English, Abundance weaves some of the abundant flora of Israel into the letters that brought all into being.

Finally, here are links to prints available from that gallery: http://www.magiceyegallery.com/GalleryPage.aspx?id=11

Also, my Hebrew calligraphy appears on a collection of holiday greeting cards at: https://m.greetingcarduniverse.com/search/go?w=Ilene%20winn%20lederer&ts=m

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

Tfel-ot-thgir (right-to-left)

Another interesting thing about the Phoenician alphabet: when you write in it, you write from right to left. The words you’re reading here are left-to-right. As the alphabet was adopted by cultures to the west of the Phoenician cities, it was written left-to-right, like our alphabet today. As the alphabet traveled east, it was written right-to-left, like Arabic and Hebrew are still written today.

Solomon built the Temple with cedar wood from Lebanon.

David, the mighty king of Israel, had Phoenician artisan advisors in his court. King Hiram of Tyre was good buds with David’s son, Solomon. It seems natural to assume that the Phoenicians brought the alphabet with them to Israel.

https://www.ancient.eu/King_David/
https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jerusalem-from-canaanite-city-to-israelite-capital
https://phoenicia.org/temple.html
https://www.biblegateway.com/quicksearch/?quicksearch=david+hiram&version=NKJV
https://phoenicia.org/alphabet.html
http://ubdavid.org/bible/know-your-bible4/know4-5.html

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Where In The World Is Western Civilization?

mapWhen I talk about the part of the globe that is Western Civilization, I mean from the Tigris/Euphrates valley to the Mediterranean to Europe to the Americas. Western Civ was born in Mesopotamia, the land between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in the southern part of Iraq. Civilization spread westward from there to lands around the Mediterranean Sea: Egypt, Israel and Phoenicia to the city-states of Europe and northward to the British Isles. From there it extended to the New World—the Americas and Australia.

So, Western Civ is made up of many people and cultures. It grew from the first civilization—the Sumerians in Mesopotamia—to the Egyptians; the Jews; the Greeks; the Romans, whose empire split into east and west; the western half of the Roman Empire became the Holy Roman Empire which reorganized itself into separate European countries. Some of those countries in turn created empires mainly by colonizing the New World. The British Empire includes Canada and Australia. The United States of America declared its independence from Britain in ad 1776.

Of course there are other non-western civilizations around the world today and throughout history. This history is simply about Western Civilization. Most important to me are the ideas. How did ancient people develop an alphabet? Whose idea was it to smelt copper and tin together to make bronze? How did they come up with literature that we still read today? How did they figure out how to measure time, or the circumference of the Earth?

Jeremiah

Sunday school tomorrow—here’s the second of our Major Prophets of the Old Testament, Jeremiah. Of the four, Jeremiah is probably the gloomiest. Although God promises sunnier days ahead once He’s finished punishing Israel & Judah for their sins, large chunks of this 52-chapter book + Lamentations is about how the Chosen People have gotten seriously off the rails.

Don’t gloat—how well-behaved have we been lately?

Jeremiah has been called the ‘weeping prophet’. So much that his own people could hardly stand him and were forever throwing Jeremiah into cisterns and jails. But who can blame him for weeping? He witnessed everything he loved and took for granted be swept away.

Most of the things Jeremiah foretold came true in his lifetime. Last week we met Isaiah, whose prophesies about the virgin birth and Messiah wouldn’t come true for 600 years. So far as I can tell, only one bit of Jeremiah foretells New Testament events—31:15 is thought to predict the slaughter of the innocents found in Matthew. Jeremiah is believed to be the author of 1 and 2 Kings, where you can read about how—starting with Solomon—things unraveled.

jeremiah72